Ben Folds Five: Live

ben foldsBen Folds Five

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The Beatles-esque chorus and outstanding drumming from Darren Jessee in “Jackson Cannery” and the lilting (at least during the verses) of a near Burt Bacharach-like “Erase Me” are a distinctive pair of openers for Ben Folds Five’s new Live. The trio are back together after ten years, though they don’t seem the worse for wear on this 15-song live album recorded around the world during their 2012-2013 tour.

Bassist Robert Sledge runs smokes (and provides a great distorted bass lead) on “Uncle Walter,” an incendiary band workout from the first BFF album. A sweet vocal from Folds floats above Jessee’s quarter note background and bowing on “Sky High.” “One Chord Blues/Billie’s Bounce” showcases Folds’ piano playing and sardonic wit in a piano-led blues jazz work-out with Jessee and Sledge following just perfectly. There’s the break-out Billy Joel-like “Travelin’ Prayer” snapping snare and rolling piano/bass of “Do It Anyway/Overture-Heaven on Their Minds,” this one featuring some tight ah’s from Jessee and Sledge as well.

The matter-of-fact lyrics to “Brick” still hits me. This rendition is perfect, with Sledge really providing the popping and bowing that makes this plaintive song so distinctive. Big snyth keyboards bleed an opening of the bass drum-driven “Draw A Crowd.” “Narcolepsy” from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner is by far the most interesting tune here with its light/dark/soft/heavy switching dynamic. It’s has a jazzy jam middle and features the odd, off-putting way that Folds has of singing sweetly about something dangerous.

My favorite Ben Folds is here, “One Angry Dwarf and Two Hundred Solemn Faces.” It’s a song that showcases the band’s unique three-piece sound and Folds’ sardonic lyrics with great aplomb. “Song For the Dumped” fires-up an Australian crowd as Sledge basically pushes the trio with his distorted bass on this super-angry break-up classic.

It’s a joy to hear this truly American band making their very unique music again.

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